For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why, at the age of 27, on my wedding day, I felt so much like a child bride. Two months into my marriage, and no closer to feeling like a real adult, I think I finally get it. This has nothing to do with the maturity of my relationship or my actual and factual age, in like, years or numbers or whatever. This feeling is sooner a product of being part of the “forever young” generation. Commonly known as millennials – and other such trendy big media euphemisms for “kids who aren’t old enough to write for the NY Times so we’ll just talk about them in the third person like they’re not reading this” – this is a generation duped by economic change and crisis to the point of being somewhat stuck in perpetual adolescence. Financial security? Unrealistic. A half-decent job you’re not way overqualified for without first being an under/unpaid intern for a while? Forget about it. Climbing up the corporate/academic/you name it ladder? Outside of the creative industries (where you’re basically mid-career by year 3): how cute that you think that’s possible before the first 40 years of your life have gone by. For all intents and purposes, my recently-graduated-and-in-between-jobs self was somewhat of a child bride.
Blaming “the economy” or “the job market” always felt like a major cop out to me, on a personal level. I graduated last year, lined up a ton of interviews and was one of the lucky few who managed to find (under)employment – the job paid just fine but was way oversold to me in terms of actual activities, and in the end the skills required to do it were absolutely minimal – fairly quickly. Within a month I was part of the working force. Temporarily. My CV was being complimented left, right and center. I was marketable. I felt like a million bucks. Everyone around me telling me horror stories about the job market and I was the exception to the rule. HA! But at that point, I was looking for temporary employment. Because I had more important things going on in my life: Christmas with my husband and his mother and my entire family in Brazil, the wedding, our trip following the wedding… Hey, temp employment for a big academic publisher for the four months until I left for my extended vacation sounded good enough to me! It’s not like I was stuck doing nothing or doing work that was entirely unrelated to my field. Academics, right? In a way?
Having managed to snag up a job so quickly after my master’s also meant that I could go home and put my family at ease. After all these years of being a student I was all grown up. With a job and a husband and stuff. But that wasn’t entirely true in the sense that I was not the exception. I was the fucking rule. Temp employment doing work I was overqualified for with no perspective of being hired? I may as well have been a headline about the dire situation of millennials. And my family knew it too. I couldn’t hide the facts. I was coming back to fuck all. No job, no immediate prospects, and no idea what I was going to do. Taking another temp position would be admitting failure and just delaying the inevitable truth that I needed to start taking career steps now – rather than just buying myself another few months while I figure shit out. Because you know what? Working fulltime means you have no time or real motivation to apply for better jobs. It’s the biggest trap of all. Take a shitty job right away out of desperation and chances are you’ll be pretty stuck there. So I was essentially back to square one. A recent grad. A post-student. A child bride.
And this is the exact situation I landed in since my KLM plane landed at Schiphol airport. I have been on a couple of interviews but, if I’m entirely honest with myself, nothing I really wanted to do. I have applied to a good FIFTY jobs since being back. About one third of them, jobs I really truly wanted. Not a single call-back for those. Every day I question my life choices. Why did I spend so much time studying something that is not a profession? Why didn’t I figure out that I wanted some practical experience sooner? Why didn’t I take the dozens of chances I had to specialize in policy? Why didn’t I do more internships? Why wasn’t I more calculating about my interests? Why did I stay in Holland when I have no intergenerational connections here at fucking all? Why, god, why? Okay, that last one was a tad dramatic. But it sums up how I feel a lot of the time now. To be putting so much energy into something that appears to be going nowhere is disheartening as fuck. And that’s not even half of it.
There’s this negative spiral that you get stuck in when you start to question every life decision you’ve ever made. Everything bad that happens suddenly feels so personal. It’s pathetic, really. Like the bills that appear at the beginning of every year and all of the sudden you’re thinking: why me? Or when our beloved cat got sick and we got stuck with a ridiculously high bill and I find myself talking about timing like there’s any good time for my little bundle of joy to fall ill. You begin to blame the “universe” for being out to get you. And I’m the least “cosmic” person I know! Yet I very seriously caught myself telling my dad the other day that I think I’m cursed! Cursed, you guys! All logic goes out the window when you feel miserable and see no way out. I blame the economy, politics, the universe, but most of all I blame myself. And it’s sad because when you’re feeling down and out you should be kind to yourself. But nothing makes more sense than self-hatred when you’re failing.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster. I have good days most days, if I’m honest. The bad days are just a little more memorable because they overwhelm your heart with fear. I have hopeful days, driven days, days where I feel like my hard work has to pay off at some point. And in between the negativity and forced positivity I have lucid days, like today. Where I know that, in the grand scheme of things, looking for work for all of six weeks is basically nothing. So I try to stay focused because that’s the only way this situation will ever change. I need to be on my A game all the time. It’s exhausting but, hey, that’s life. And I know that’s such a cliché but you never should forget the first time you realize that life owes you nothing. Nothing. You might fail. You can do everything you’re “supposed” to do and still get stuck. But, more often than not, that’s just one small chapter of your story.
Hell, if I’m part of the forever young generation, I may as well embrace it and use that to hold on to a youthful outlook on life. One that tells you can always grow and develop from every situation and that you should hold on tight because the ride has just begun. Eventually you’ll be on top.